Contributed by Marie Maus and Ken Thompson
Recently, on the 21st anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Access Board released new Rights-of-Way Guidelines for public comment. Many years in the making, once finalized and implemented as standards, the guidelines will apply to newly constructed or altered portions of public rights-of-way cover by the ADA. The guidelines cover pedestrian access to sidewalks and streets, including crosswalks, curb ramps, street furnishings, pedestrian signals, parking, and other components of public rights-of-way. The new guidelines will help make the pedestrian circulation route more accessible and usable to everyone in areas of new construction. Also, the guidelines will apply to public rights-of-way built or altered with funding from the Federal government under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) and the Rehabilitation Act. The Rights-of-Way Guidelines complement, and in some areas, reference the Board’s ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines for buildings and facilities. Two public hearings on the guidelines are scheduled during the 120-day comment period: September 12 in Dallas and November 9 in Washington, D.C.
The completion of these guidelines is very exciting! The draft guidelines can be helpful as a practical guide for improving accessibility of the pedestrian rights of way in areas not covered by the present ADAAG. Existing pedestrian networks not undergoing alteration, however, will not have to meet these requirements. That being the way, continued action is needed. Those of us concerned about accessible pathways and livable communities must continue our efforts to work with and encourage local communities to modify currently inaccessible pathways to make them accessible to and usable by people of all abilities, such as students with disabilities making their way to the school-bus stop, older adults walking to the neighborhood grocery store, parents pushing their children in strollers to a subway station for a trip to the zoo, or a veteran using a wheelchair to get to a bus stop to go to a new job. In this climate of fiscal restraint, it is important to keep the need for investment in accessible, livable communities in front of decision-makers so that all citizens are able to support their own health and well-being as well as contribute to that of their communities.